Highlight Clips and the Loss of Context

On the internet in the early 2000s, the short, 5-second-at-most animated gif reigned. Before high-speed internet became ubiquitous, the gif was a low-commitment way to share snippets of your favorite show. While gifs are still used frequently, things have changed with the advent of YouTube, Twitter, the webm format, and more. Where once gifs were ideally super short, super-optimized for size, and often made to loop smoothly, now clips can go for minutes on end to showcase exactly what’s necessary to impress and astound. But as fandom and even online cultures in general have grown into an environment of instant gratification and moving snapshots, I find that it can influence how people view a given work or performance.

Highlight reels are nothing new, and I think they fulfill a useful role. Speaking from personal experience, they help me understand things that I can’t quite make time to fully delve into. For example, I’ve never been a big basketball fan, but seeing highlights of Michael Jordan’s famous “flu game” (where he managed to lead the Chicago Bulls to victory despite being incredibly ill) helps to drive home to a novice like me the sheer significance of Jordan’s feat. However, not everything boils down easily to small, digestible clips, and there’s increasingly a risk that people will judge the clipped version as if it speaks for the whole product.

Here are three examples that I think encapsulate this dilemma:

On the wrestling subreddit /r/squaredcircle, one fairly common topic is the WWE wrestler Finn Bálor. In multiple instances, Bálor is criticized for being a boring wrestler whose offense lacks weight and pizzazz. However, I’ve seen another sentiment in response: Finn Bálor is impressive when viewed over the course of an entire match. His moves might not leave a deep impression individually, but he weaves them together into a story. Every dropkick, every stomp from the top rope means something, and viewing the moves in isolation fails to tell the whole story.

Starcraft is a series of competitive video games known for pushing players to the limits. Occupying the real-time strategy genre, it will have the occasional flashes of brilliance that can be captured in highlight clips, but more often what makes people fans are the stories told over 20-60 minutes of adversaries trying to outwit and out-muscle each other. It’s often the case that written essays more accurately capture the strength and tactical brilliance of a player than a minute-long Twitch clip. As a result, games that are conducive to highlight reels, like fighting games or MOBAs, tend to go viral much more often.

On a personal note, when creating the “Precure Party” panel for AnimeNEXT 2015 with Alain from Reverse Thieves, I tried to find the best clip to convey the quality of my favorite, Heartcatch Precure! In my opinion, the show’s greatest strength is how it delivers very profound and considerate messages using the depths and quirks of its characters. What I ultimately decided on was to combine two clips: one showing Kurumi Erika (Cure Marine) being jealous of her older sister, and then another showing her older sister Momoka being jealous of Erika in contrast. The point was to show how it threads together those two episodes two make a stronger point about how Erika’s sense of inferiority isn’t the entire story, but the short highlight reel didn’t hit as effectively as I’d hoped. It just wasn’t as effective as showing transformation sequences, dramatic character development scenes, or easy-to-understand gag scenes. If I were to do it over, I would pick something with a lot more impact, but I’d still be a bit sad that I couldn’t properly convey in that instance the X-factor of Heartcatch.

I care little for complaints about shrinking attention spans; I’ve been hearing them since I was a kid. While there is a lot of desire out there for immediate satisfaction (see commenters online who write gigantic replies based purely on the title of a video or article), I can only put so much blame on the viewers and readers when it’s the people making the ads and videos to exploit their customers’ tendencies. What’s more important to me is that I hope people who see short clips or highlight reels for more complex subjects understand it’s just a taste of whatever they’re looking at, and that it’s not always the best or most ideal representation.

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Bruno Sammartino in Tiger Mask: A Brief Cameo

Wednesday, April 18, 2018 marked the passing of a legend. One of the most influential pro wrestlers of all time and longest-running WWE champion Bruno Sammartino died at age 82. Before WrestleMania, before the national expansion of the WWF, Bruno was the flagship wrestler for that company.

It just so happens that the same day as Sammartino’s passing, I was reading the original Tiger Mask manga, and who would show up in Volume 6 but the Italian Strongman himself.

The Tiger Mask manga, published beginning in the 1960s, was known for showcasing real professional wrestlers, such as Classy Freddie Blassie and Angelo Poffo, alongside fictional ones.

In the above scene, Giant Baba (a Japanese wrestling legend in his own right) is describing the best American wrestlers to another character. He ranks the top three as 1) “Human Power Plant” Bruno Sammartino 2) “Iron Claw” Fritz von Erich 3) “Great King Thunder” Gene Kiniski. (4 is the fictional Mr. Question. You may have seen him in Tiger Mask W!)

The nicknames are directly translated from the Japanese; I have no idea where “Human Power Plant” comes from. Amusingly, “Great King Thunder” seems to be a creative interpretation of Gene Kiniski’s actual nickname “Big Thunder”—the Japanese word for “great king” is daioh; literally “big king.”

Rest in peace, Bruno Sammartino. You’ve been immortalized in more ways than one.

Tiger Mask W and the Lack of Friendship Redemption Arcs in Pro Wrestling

WARNING: Tiger Mask W spoilers

My decision to watch the anime Tiger Mask W came during a time that I’ve been watching more pro wrestling than I have in more than a decade. As I’ve re-acclimated myself to that world of holds, slams, betrayals, and glory, it only makes sense that a wrestling anime would hook me. The fact that it’s a sequel to a beloved classic that tries to capture the feel of the original but projected through the lens of today made that doubly possible. Watching Tiger Mask W and its story of revenge and redemption, however, made me extremely aware of the fact that real pro wrestling has plenty of the former but little of the latter.

One of the main plot points of Tiger Mask W is the rivalry between Tiger Mask and Tiger the Dark, two friends seeking vengeance on a common foe yet who aren’t aware of each other’s true identity. Eventually, they make amends and they grow stronger for it. This sort of narrative is incredibly common in anime and manga—think Naruto and Sasuke. In comparison, pro wrestling has backstabbing and teams imploding galore, but I can only think of very few cases where the reforging of bonds once broken actually seems planned in advance.

For example, over the past year, numerous duos in the world of the WWE have come apart when one character turns traitor. Kevin Owens attacked Chris Jericho during a celebration of their friendship. Tommaso Ciampa assaulted Johnny Gargano, ending the tag team DIY. Goldust hit R-Truth from behind, breaking up their alliance. Big Cass booted Enzo Amore in the face with disdain. All were and are meant to lead to feuds between former allies, the aftertaste of betrayal making them that much more bitter. Wrestling seems to be very much about building up teams only to tear them down and start an intense battle between the two, but actually bringing them back together is never part of the plan, at least not at first.

There’s always the chance that wrestlers will make amends. Perhaps one day Enzo will be fighting against the odds, when Cass runs out and saves him. After all, face turns (switches from evil to good) are part and parcel with the industry. But they’re not woven into the narrative from the start so much as something that’s done once a rivalry has run its course. They’re treated as two separate stories: the betrayal that occurs, and then later (if they really need it) the redemption and reunion.

But I want my “anime as hell” stories about a hero trying over and over to rescue a former friend from the darkness. I want face turns to come from realizing the errors of one’s ways. I want more Tiger Mask and Tiger the Dark narratives. I don’t want the restoration of friendship to be an afterthought, but something actually planned as part of a greater arc.

Tiger Mask W and the Significance of Global Wrestling Monopoly

In Tiger Mask W, a young wrestler dons the mask of the legendary Tiger Mask in order to fight against the villainous wrestlers of the Tiger’s Den. Most frequently, this involves taking on a wrestling company that exists as the outward-facing image of the Tiger’s Den, a thinly veiled World Wrestling Entertainment parody called “Global Wrestling Monopoly,” or GWM for short. The GWM is actually a brand-new creation for Tiger Mask W, something I personally found curious given how much having the most evil force in wrestling also be the largest and most popular. Why didn’t something like the GWM exist in the original Tiger Mask?

Upon reading the original Tiger Mask manga, I realized something: it would have been impossible to reference anything like the WWE. Tiger Mask first began in 1969 and ended in 1971, a time when there was no such thing as an international wrestling organization on the scale of what would become World Wrestling Entertainment.

In 1969, the promotion that would eventually become the World Wrestling Federation and later World Wrestling Entertainment was still known as the World Wide Wrestling Federation. At the head was Vincent James McMahon, father of current owner Vincent Kennedy McMahon, who ran the WWWF as just one of many territorial wrestling promotions in the US; in the WWWF’s case, it covered the Northeast, especially the New York area. During this time, Bruno Sammartino, one of the greatest WWE champions of all time (if not the greatest), was in the middle of his historic nine-year reign as WWWF champion.

Tiger Mask vs. “Classy” Freddie Blassie

Tiger Mask came from a time long before what many people today think of as wrestling. This was the era before Wrestlemania took the WWF national with Hulkamania, before Ric Flair’s battles with Ricky Steamboat and Dusty Rhodes. Naturally, it’s long before the eras of The Rock, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, and John Cena. In addition to the Tiger’s Den wrestlers, Tiger Mask encounters real-world wrestlers of the time like all-time Japanese greats Antonio Inoki and Giant Baba. He wrestles against big names such as “Classy” Freddie Blassie (who would go on to train Triple H) and Angelo Poffo (father of “Macho Man” Randy Savage).

This is why the strategy used by the Tiger’s Den makes more sense for the period Tiger Mask came from. Unlike in Tiger Mask W, where they’re presented as employees of Global Wrestling Monopoly, the villainous secret organization would train heel wrestlers and send them around the world to various countries and territories in order to traumatize local wrestlers and take their money. Of course, in the world of Tiger Mask and Tiger Mask W, wrestling is 100% legitimate, so there’s no such thing as pre-planned matches or notions like kayfabe.

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New York Comic Con 2016 Essay #2: Lucha Underground and Scripted vs. Unscripted Promos

I don’t talk about wrestling all that often on this anime and manga blog. Pro wrestling hasn’t been a staple part of my pop culture experience in over a decade. That being, said I do maintain a curiosity towards the state of its industry and its viewers. Who are the popular heroes (faces) and villains (heels)? What wrestling promotions are currently out there? What do the fans think? It’s this desire to keep a finger on the pulse of wrestling that prompted me to attend the Lucha Underground panel at New York Comic Con 2016, despite the fact that I had seen less than 30 minutes’ worth of material.

Lucha Underground is a current American television program that focuses on the high-flying acrobatics style of Mexican wrestling called lucha libre. The panel featured both writers and performers for Lucha Underground, most notably Rey Mysterio, Jr., the man who has become the icon of lucha libre itself in the United States. The panelists discussed what it’s like to work on the show and what Lucha Underground does differently compared to other promotions. Of these various comments, what stood out to me most was the fact that Lucha Underground is produced more like a traditional television series. Storylines are plotted out, many characters are created well in advance (with wrestlers having auditioned to fulfill those roles), and a lot of post-production is utilized to create a more cinematic experience. In other words, Lucha Underground is neither “live” in the traditional sense nor “live to tape.”

The reason I find this notable is that if you ask many current wrestling fans (and I imagine even fans of Lucha Underground) what’s wrong with WWE today, it’s that the show is too scripted. Individual wrestlers have their promos written for them, and only a select few are allowed to go off the cuff. This is a very different world from where wrestling was in eras past, where things like “Austin 3:16” and Macho Man’s “cream of the crop” were their own creations. It makes sense, given that wrestlers are in general not the greatest actors, but that they can be very good at crafting their own characters based on their own personalities, or taking a gimmick given to them and going the distance with it. The fact that Lucha Underground goes even further in the direction of being scripted (not just in outcomes, but also in long-term story planning) seems to fly in the face of this criticism.

However, I wonder if the issue is that promotions like WWE are caught in the middle, such that it lacks both the improvisational feel of old and isn’t refined enough in its narrative elements to really make sure its scripted elements are as tightly plotted as possible. This might just be a symptom of still being a live show on top of being the biggest wrestling show on air today. There’s a desire to avoid taking too many risks at the same time they understand that new blood and new opportunities are necessary, and if something awry happens they can’t just make it so that it never happened (even if wrestling storylines are always incredibly fluid). At the Lucha Underground panel, they mentioned how not having the show be live allows them to do multiple takes, and try crazy and untested ideas because anything that isn’t effective can go on the cutting room floor.

Given that this is how Lucha Underground is made, I find that this format ends up veering closer to sports anime, such as the current wrestling series Tiger Mask W. They can emphasize emotion and power in ways that don’t have to adhere to the semblance of realism (kayfabe) that still persists in other places even though everyone knows wrestling is “fake” now. By using creative camera angles, by making sure the mystic or occult elements of their universe don’t require you to suspend disbelief any more than you would a late-night drama, it perhaps allows Lucha Undeground to create an experience where its luchadores are truly “characters.” And by being characters, they can feel even more real.

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The Perfect Nickname for Saki’s Anetai Toyone

The new season of the Saki anime is here, and with it comes a whole slew of new characters. I’m quite fond of a number of them, but perhaps none more than Anetai Toyone. At 197 cm tall (over 6’5″) she’s not just “anime girl” tall, but actually a dark and imposing figure (at least physically).

I mentally refer to her as “the Undertaker” because on her resemblance to the WWE wrestler, particularly his early-to-mid 90s look, and I’m encouraging everyone else to do the same. It’ll make the actual experience of watching the show that much richer, and I want you to think of that signature gong every time you see Toyone.

Perhaps Kakura Kurumi (the small one) could be her Paul Bearer.